Interpretation in Psychology and Social Science—New Approach or a Neglected Tradition?


  • Jochen Fahrenberg Universität Freiburg



assessment, biographical methods, interpretation, depth, divergence, reliability, validity, interview, latent, manifest, projective techniques, training


The recent claims for an emergent interpretative paradigm in psychology and the social sciences is evaluated in the context of the long tradition of such methodologies in psychology. Fifty years ago, the qualitative analysis of biographical interviews, of projective tests and dreams (and even graphology) was widely used. Much effort and time was put into developing and refining elaborated systems of rules and assessment strategies. At times, this approach has been the dominant methodology in academic psychology—at least at many departments of Psychology in Germany. This practice was increasingly challenged by pointing out obvious discrepancies between distinct systems and teachings and, moreover, by empirical evidence that indicated questionable validities. A further concern was the time-consuming effort required for training and application of such methods in assessing personality or arriving at clinical diagnosis. Thus, the use of projective techniques was nearly abandoned and, at present, apparently, is of comparatively little impact in university departments, although it is still used in clinical psychology. Likewise, the comprehensive training in interview-methods was generally reduced. Not much of the assets, that is, the large body of know-how about the common principles and basic rules, inherent to this methodology, survived the general trend as evidenced by present-day textbooks. In this context, many of the recent suggestions referring to the interpretative paradigm, appear to be a reintroduction of the past, however, omitting or neglecting essential aspects and, in particular, the explanations for what reasons the extensive training and use was abandoned in many fields. In continuation of the long tradition of interpretative methodologies in psychology, several issues were raised. These issues include: the latent meaning versus manifest content; the interactive testing of an interpretative hypothesis according to FREUD's basic concept; the mutual relationship between depth and divergence of interpretative hypotheses; controlled evaluation based on independent and, as well, joint analysis; rule-based, transparent procedures to further establish aspects of reliability and validity; and the integration of interpretative methods in over-all assessment strategies in the applied fields. Furthermore, obvious deficits regarding communication between fields and disciplines were indicated and issues in training students. Appropriate steps to serve this aim in curricula of undergraduate and graduate studies in psychology and the social sciences are suggested. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0302451


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Jochen Fahrenberg, Universität Freiburg

Jochen FAHRENBERG ist em. Professor für Psychologie, Psychologisches Institut der Universität Freiburg. Arbeitsgebiete sind: Differentielle Psychologie und Persönlichkeitsforschung, Methodenlehre der Psychologie (einschließlich Wissenschaftstheorie und Psychologischer Anthropologie) sowie Psychophysiologie.



How to Cite

Fahrenberg, J. (2003). Interpretation in Psychology and Social Science—New Approach or a Neglected Tradition?. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 4(2).



FQS Debate: Quality of Qualitative Research